Tony Martin's escape group of four was pulled back with 10km remaining to give way to a sprint finish
Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) claimed victory on stage three of the Tour of Britain.
The Frenchman had the benefit of a lead out from Luxembourg champion, Bob Jungles – before jumping onto the wheel of Mads Würtz Schmidt (Katusha-Alpecin) – who opened his sprint with 500 metres remaining.
Würtz Schmidt’s early move reaped no reward, the Dane losing his position whilst Alaphilippe crossed the line first, in front of Patrick Bevin (BMC) with Emils Liepins (One Pro Cycling) in third.
The 128 kilometre stage, starting and finishing in Bristol, featured a loop through the Mendips with a climb of Cheddar Gorge midway through the day – plus an ascent of Ashton Hill seven kilometres from the line before a flat run in to the finish.
A escapee group of four – instigated by time trial specialist Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) enlivened the proceedings – gaining a minute long gap with 60km remaining – but the group was absorbed into the peloton with 10km left to race.
The result puts Bevin in the lead of the general classification, with Cameron Meyer (Mitchelton-Scott) matching his time and Alaphilippe (Quick Step Floors) just 2s back.
How it happened
Riders burst out the blocks with a raft of attacks, but no one was able to snap the chord before the first intermediate sprint, won by Würtz Schmidt (Katusha-Alpecin). The peloton remained intact over the first intermediate climb in Yatton, that went to James Shaw (Lotto-Soudal)
It wasn’t until 30km had passed that a dangerous looking duo of Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC) broke away. They were reeled in but the attack gave an indication of what was to come from the German time trial specialist.
With the Cheddar Gorge climb underway, a break of seven riders looked like they may gain an advantage – only to be pulled back by the bunch, with Sylvain Chavanel (Direct-Energie) scooping up the KOM points at the summit.
After 45 km of racing behind, Matt Holmes (Madison-Genesis), Pascal Eenkenhoorn (Lotto-Jumbo) – with the unlikely breakaway addition of André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) – gained some distance. Come the 52km mark, they had 30s on the peloton – and were joined by Rubén Fernández (Movistar) and Iljo Keisse (Quick-Step), with Dmitrii Strakhov (Katusha-Alpecin) bridging across soon after.
The distance to the peloton was moving in the wrong direction, however – with 62km down, the break had 20s, as Eenkenhoorn scooped up the sprinter’s points at Midsomer Norton – Greipel not even featuring in the top three.
Just four kilometres later, and the escapees had been absorbed – Team Sky having led the chase most of the way.
Taking advantage of a brief moment of calm, Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) saw a second opportunity. The reining national time trial champion and former wold champion counter attacked, before burying himself into solo-mode. Seeing the potential in the escape, JLT Condor’s Jon Mould, Ben Swift (Great Britain) and Angelo Tulik (Direct Enrgie) bridged over – in what proved to be the move of the day with 60km remaining.
None of the breakaway riders presented any threat to the GC, and at the 77km point, the quartet had built up a lead of 1 minute.
The Martin train wasn’t moving fast enough, however – the gap fell to 42s, at 87km – with 40km to go.
The break continued to work in harmony as the k’s ticked by – but behind the likes of Team Sky and Quick-Step Floors were forcing a high pace and with 17.5km to go, the time gap had fallen to half its maximum on a minute, and stood at 30s.
Come 15km, there was only 21s between the two groups – down to 12s with 10km left, when the break came into sight of the Great Britain spearheaded peloton, working for the track cycling pedigree of Ethan Hayter.
Heading up the 1km Ashton Hill climb, Fernando Gaviria (Quick Step Floors) came to the fore, Greipel on his wheel before dropping off as the incline began to bite. Gaviria never gained much distance, but Tom Pidock (Team Wiggins) swept past him, powering up the climb to take the KOM points.
He was followed by Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) and on the descent, those at the front of the peloton rejoined the pair – the bunch was intact with 6km left and remained so over the flat roads that followed.
Under the flamme rouge, Shaw headed the peloton, before the Quick-Step duo of Jungles – followed by Alaphilippe showed its face to the wind.
With 500 metres to the line, Schmidt was the first to go – but Frenchman Alaphilippe was quickly onto his wheel, sprinting past in the final moments to take the win over Patrick Bevin (BMC) and Emils Liepins (One Pro Cycling) with Great Britain’s Ethan Hayter in fourth.
Tour of Britain stage three, Bristol to Bristol (128km)
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step Floors) in 2-47-41
2. Patrick Bevin (BMC)
3. Emils Liepins (One Pro Cycling)
4. Ethan Hayter (Great Britain)
5. Jasper De Buyst (Lotto-Soudal)
6. Connor Swift (Madison-Genesis)
7. Mads Würtz Schmidt (Katusha-Alpecin)
8. Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar)
9. Dion Smith (Wanty-Groupe Gobert)
10. Xandro Meurisse (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), at same time
General classification after stage three
1. Patrick Bevin (BMC) 11-03-11
2. Cameron Meyer (Mitchelton-Scott), at same time
3. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step Floors) at 2s
4. Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar) at 12s
5. Wout Poels (Team Sky)
6. Chris Hamilton (Team Sunweb)
7. Bob Jungels (Quick Step Floors)
8. Primož Roglič (LottoNL-Jumbo)
9. Hugh Carthy (EF-Drapac), at 19s
10. Scott Davies (Dimension Data) at 22s